Friday, November 30, 2007

Q.E.D. revisited

A couple of weeks ago I found out something which, if it is true, means that a while ago I made a pun that went straight past at least half of my readers.

It was not a very good pun, I'll freely admit. It was ridiculously forced. But it took EFFORT to make it that bad, and that is why it is rather upsetting to discover that the reason nobody sneered was probably because they didn't even notice it was there.

Varieties of English can be SO confusing. I thought I had become thoroughly acquainted with American English due to having used so many American English language learning textbooks over the years. Also, I read a lot. You'd think I'd have noticed, but it is true that you tend to notice things that are there rather than things that are not.

In this case, I did not notice that Q.E.D is not a term in general use in the U.S.

At least, according to the Americans I meet, it is not. Since many of the Americans I know are better educated than I am, I can only conclude this is one of those expressions that have become a part of the language in some places and not in others. It was hearing it used casually on a Radio New Zealand podcast on my way home that reminded me of it again today.

(For those who were wondering how to use it, Q.E.D. is a quicker way of saying, "And everything I just said proves my case. So there." Said with the right sort of emphasis, it can mean, additionally, "Bite me.")

So for those of you who read the Q.E.D. story and missed the pun, I apologize for making it too obscure and regional. But now that you know it is there, feel free to have a quiet groan, or, if you're feeling charitable, a cheap laugh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I guess you're wondering why my head bulges like this.

It's because I'm so clever. My brains have grown so big they hardly fit into my skull.

See that bit in front? That's my frontal lobe. The puzzle-solving bit of my brain.

I had to grow a big brain to find food, because people keep hiding it from me.

That means I have to be cleverer than people.

Not that difficult, really.

For example, they probably hid some food under this rock. They thought I'd be too stupid to notice.

They also thought I wouldn't be able to turn over the rock. No opposable thumbs. Pfft! They only think opposable thumbs are important because they've got them.

Ha! Fat lot they know.

All right, so there was no food under that particular rock, but that doesn't mean I'm going to give up. That's what they want me to do.

I never give up.

I just move onto the next rock.

I can afford to take my time. I'm not so 'intelligent' that I have to sit in an office all day trying to make some stupid boss happy. I can do what I want.

Nobody is my boss.

I can turn over as many rocks as I want to.

And that's good, because they say seafood is good for the brain. I'm fairly sure river food is good, too.

My brain is growing bigger just THINKING about eating this, whatever it is.


Next rock.

I don't know why they bother to hide the food like this.

I always find it.

I'm not going to share, you know. Turn over your own rocks.

And go away. I'm busy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This is a fabulous article, as interesting and thought provoking as the book written by the same person. Of course I think it is fabulous because it confirms what I already thought: that eating is fun, and worrying about what the latest studies say about what and what not to eat is a waste of time. Eat food! he says, and he is right.

But of course there is a catch, because by 'food' he does not mean 'nutritionally enhanced food-like products.' He means, you know, actual vegetables and things. This is made easy for me because I have a hard time deciphering the instructions on prepackaged food here, so stick to fresh food that doesn't need instructions. (In other words, I am forced into eating healthily because I am too lazy to learn to read properly.) Also, we don't have a microwave.

We think that we have a lot more choices in our food than our great-grandparents did, but chew on this:

The astounding variety of foods on offer in the modern supermarket obscures the fact that the actual number of species in the modern diet is shrinking. For reasons of economics, the food industry prefers to tease its myriad processed offerings from a tiny group of plant species, corn and soybeans chief among them. Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web.

I know that when I first came to Japan I was astonished by the different kinds of leafy greens available. We didn't have that many in New Zealand. (I think there are more, now.) Of course there are some other foods that it is difficult to find in Japan, but really I can get almost anything these days.

There is even a Costco now, which imports American foods. This is good for those who really miss 'home' style food, I suppose, although it didn't work for me, probably because I'm not American. The Man and I went there once. We paid the joining fee and spent some time wandering around the aisles. After a while we realized that there was nothing we actually wanted to buy except for some printer ink cartridge refill packs. There was a lot of prepackaged American food that the Americans I know rave about and miss terribly when they're here, but very little we would normally eat. Besides, the amounts were too big. We tend to eat fresh food, and don't want huge amounts of anything. I realized that the people who had told me about the great deals available and how much they liked having familiar food available at good prices were all American, and they miss different things from me. I do not crave frozen pizza, or breakfast cereals, or 'home-made' cookies. When I get cravings for 'home' food I crave rhubarb and tamarillos and passionfruit and Granny Smith apples and vegemite. The fresh foods section sold nothing we could not get more conveniently at a local supermarket. We buy veges almost every day, so a special trip in a taxi (Costco is not located conveniently for those without cars) is not worth it for us. We eat cheese so seldom that we don't really mind paying luxury prices for it at the department stores, so although I love cheese it was not worth joining for that, either.

So we unjoined, were refunded our money, and have never been back.

Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, the writer suggests, and when I look at my daily diet I realize that although my great-great-grandmother probably wouldn't have recognized kikuna or komatsuna or mizuna or kombu, SOMEBODY'S great-great-grandmother probably did.

And that makes it all right, doesn't it?

I hadn't thought about the food I miss for ages, and I was doing all right before I started thinking about tamarillos. (With a little sugar sprinkled over them, and a blob of fresh whipped cream.) I am now convinced that this cold was caused by a tamarillo deficiency.

(Although I'm feeling much better now, thank you.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day off

I almost never take a day off, especially since these days we have to make up all classes we miss. Apparently teachers are supposed to be invincible, and also are not covered by labour laws which require employers to allow a certain number of sick days a year.

But tomorrow I am taking a day off, at the only place I can without having to make up classes. (They politely 'urge' us to make them up at that place but do not insist, as they do everywhere else.) This is because today in my second class I lost my voice. In the first class I rapidly discovered that I could not call the roll without banging on the desk first to get the students' attention – yelling was out of the question as my voice just wasn't working – and in the second my voice . . . went. When I tried to speak my throat seized up and tears started streaming down my face. After I recovered from that (with the help of a throat lozenge) I could speak again, but with even less volume than before.

I don't know what this is, but it is not a normal cold. Nor is it the 'flu. I do not have a cough and my temperature is normal, although halfway through that second class I started feeling a bit dizzy and hot. (I think it was the heating system, which is up by the ceiling and blows directly down on my head.) My sinuses are full of gunk and my throat hurts. That's it. Oh, and I feel like rubbish.

I was supposed to get over this. I had a long weekend in which to recover, and I spent it resting, overdosing on chicken soup, and sleeping. Last night I went to bed at around nine in order to be really refreshed for today, and slept straight through to nine this morning. That was a bit surprising. Good thing I only had afternoon classes! I felt pretty good before I started work.

That must be it. I have developed an allergy to work.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fun for the children

I have found the perfect game to keep RaJ children amused for hours on end. Launchball!!

Easy as pie. (Until you get to the 'Extras.')

(via Pharyngula)

But wait! There's another one! Mousebreaker. (Curses Thanks to RamblinDude, in Pharyngula's comments – and the reason I got stuck at an 'easy' level is that I have a cold, dammit.)

Friday, November 23, 2007


I have won an award!

Isn't it pretty?

Apparently I had the Best Idea for a Non-Threatening Religious Movement, AND I am the most likely to be made into a chicklit move about the power of loving every day (cue music).

(Please ignore the bit down the bottom, where it says that it was as though the awards were given to whomever asked for them. I did not ask for these. If I had been consulted, I would have asked for the most exciting duck award. Maybe next year.)

Silly, silly, silly

There is a new law in Japan, which started last week. All foreigners who enter Japan have to be fingerprinted as they go through Immigration. Debate is raging about whether or not this is a good idea. Most of the people I know think it is a Very Bad Idea.

I have to say I agree with them, for several reasons. One is that although in principle this should be a way to keep track of potential terrorists, this is Japan, and my experience with bureaucracies here does not give me confidence that it will do anything of the kind. They are more likely to mix up their records and arrest somebody's visiting grandmother. Either that, or they'll lose the records altogether. They're good at that.

The second reason I doubt this will be effective is that any terrorist who really wants to come into Japan will find a way around this law. I know this personally. My own brother (who is, as far as I know, not a terrorist) once came into Japan with no visa at all. I will not tell you how he managed it, but I can tell you that it was as easy as pie. Also, he was wined and dined in lavish style by some shady people and had a very nice evening, thank you very much. If the fingerprinting law had been in place at that time, and he had wanted to blow up the Diet buildings, he could have left his fingerprints all over the place. They would not be in the database. He did not go through Immigration. Officially he was never here at all.

The third reason is that the only terrorist attacks so far in Japan have been committed by Japanese people, to whom this law does not apply. And here's something to give pause for thought. As I was hunting for a suitable link on the Aum subway gassings, look what I found:

Aum Shinri Kyo's use of related companies and its role as a subcontractor made it almost impossible for ministries and organizations to be aware that they were buying computer systems from the cult, computer experts said. In the years following the subway nerve gas attack, the cult, now called ``Aleph,'' has designed software for various government agencies and ministries. It developed a software system for Japan's Defense Agency that would manage classified communications. (Bold added.)

That report goes on to say that The government recently ordered ministries to stop using software developed by companies associated with the cult, but remember, this is JAPAN. The ministries are BUREAUCRACIES.

There is also the problem of what happens to the data, which I will not go into here because it's too big a topic for me. That is discussed here, if you're interested.

The final reason that I am not in favour of this new law is that it also targets permanent residents. Quite aside from the fact that this means that people who have been here for a large part or even all of their lives are going to be treated as 'foreigners' and potential terrorists (we're used to that, not that that makes discrimination any nicer), this is going to be very annoying for me personally, because it means that when The Man and I come back from overseas we will have to go through different lines at Immigration, and he will have to wait for me to go through the whole process. (You can pre-register your fingerprint to speed things up, but only at Narita airport, which we never use.) The way it used to be we went through the same line together. It was relatively fast and hassle-free.

This is, of course, a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but I feel for those of my colleagues who have children. Since the law does not apply to children under sixteen or to Japanese nationals, this means that when they travel with their children, the children will go through one line and their parents through another. One of my colleagues is particularly anxious about this. She sometimes takes her kids to visit their grandparents in Canada, without their Japanese father, and she does not know how this will be handled at Immigration. Will they insist that her five-year-old be separated from her and sent to a different line because he has a Japanese passport? I told her that I expect they will allow him the privilege of waiting with his potential terrorist mother in the foreigners' line, but what about when the kids are older?

So my attitude to this law is that it is a silly one, it achieves very little of use, the information collected could be used in less than savoury ways (or, more likely, lost, or released to the wrong people by mistake), and it is likely to cause a lot more trouble and inconvenience than it supposedly prevents. But it is also rumoured to be a cash cow for certain well-placed people, so I expect it is unlikely to be repealed at least until they have milked the cow for as much as they can get from it.

(Contamination has written several posts about this issue.)


Wednesday's screwup was caused by the loopy professor who surprised and confused me on Saturday. As I mentioned, I taught her classes together with mine last Wednesday, and yesterday we were supposed to go back to our usual routine for the two afternoon classes. The usual routine is that I teach the two A classes one week while she teaches the Bs, and the next week we swap. However, for some reason she started her first class on time yesterday (she is usually at least five minutes late, more often ten or fifteen) and when I got upstairs I discovered that she had gone to the wrong room, and had already started teaching the class I was supposed to be teaching.

This presented me with a problem. It meant that the lesson plan that was supposed to serve me for two weeks had run out a week early, because I'd already used it with that class (although not with the other). Moving onto the next unit in the textbook was no problem (aside from the fact that the students hadn't brought their textbooks for my class so I had to run downstairs and make copies of the pages we were using), but we only use the text for half the class time. For the other half I have an ongoing little thing where I am giving them games and activities which are all linked. I had not printed out or copied the next one yet. Actually I hadn't finished making it. I was planning to finish it this weekend.

So I had to make up something, quickly, that did not require preparation. I thought about it while they were doing the pair practice in the text (badly, but I wasn't capable of supervising and dreaming up a new activity at the same time), and in the end I decided on Chinese Whispers with sentences that used the structures they were supposed to be learning. I used some sentences they should have known from their homework, but they didn't seem to notice and the sentences got garbled hopelessly as they went down the two lines I had set up. The last student in each line, who was supposed to write it on the board, had a terrible time of it, causing great hilarity. They wanted to play it again and again. I don't know if they learned much, but at least it worked.

But the best thing at all, and the thing that made this a totally brilliant game for a teacher with a throbbing head, was that the students had to whisper. You can't imagine how clever that made me feel. Those are my noisiest classes, and I hadn't been looking forward to them at all.

Later the professor asked me, anxiously,

"That was the wrong class, wasn't it? Did you have a problem?"

"Never mind," I said. "It was all right. We'll sort it out next week, somehow."

"I'm so sorry to cause you trouble!" she said.

"No problem!" I said, cheerfully, and she looked relieved.

My new on-the-spot lesson plan was so much quieter than the one I had planned to do that I was prepared to forgive ANYTHING. The next couple of weeks will be messy, but never mind.

Today's farce, at a different university, was even more . . . farcical. My morning classes went quite well, but in the afternoon something was obviously wrong. Why was half my class absent? What was going on? The students who came did not know. I did not want to do the test I had planned with so many missing. This was not just one or two students, it was fourteen, out of twenty-nine. (Twenty-nine who usually come, that is.) Again, my lesson plan was messed up, so I improvised like mad, got the students writing, and went through the numerous papers in my bag to find out if there was an unopened envelope somewhere that might explain things. I get so much paperwork from that particular school it is not unusual to miss something important in all the dross, and perhaps I had been warned about some event students would be absent for. But there was nothing.

Towards the end of class, one of the students told me she'd just had an email from her friend, who had sent a photo with it. She showed it to me. The photo was of the notice that had been pinned up on the official noticeboard over on the other side of campus, saying that my class today was cancelled.

I stared at the phone. There was no doubt about it. There was my name. There was my classroom number. There was the date and time.

"Why was the class cancelled? Nobody told me!" I squawked indignantly. Then I added, "And why are you here?" (If my class had been cancelled, why wasn't I having a little nap in the teachers' room?)

"We didn't see the notice," they said.

I let them go a bit early. My ingenuity was not up to entertaining them for the last twenty minutes of a lesson that had apparently been cancelled anyway. I couldn't assign the homework I had been planning to assign, and I was at the end of my rope.

I went off to look for the boss, but he was not in his office. I waited a while, but when it was clear he would not appear before my last class I left a note for him on his door.

I wrote something like this:

Here is a little puzzle for you. Half my class was absent, and eventually one of the students got an email from her friend with a photo of a notice on the noticeboard saying that my class was cancelled. Unfortunately not all the students saw the notice. If the business department complain that I are not giving the tests we are supposed to give, or teaching the full 90 minutes, please inform them that it is difficult to do either when they suddenly cancel classes without telling me.

Why wasn't I told? Any ideas about what is going on?

Then I went off to my last class. Since this one was in a different department I assumed that the same problem would not happen again, and I certainly wasn't going to hike all the way over to the engineering building to find out.

This time, I had a grand total of eight students turning up, and not only that, they were the worst ones. It was a nightmare, particularly because it was the end of the day and I was feeling like rubbish. When you are expecting twenty students and have planned accordingly, it is hard to make the sudden switch to a small, intimate class of slackers. I did my best, and after the usual conversational stuff got them doing some boring grammar from the textbook we are supposed to use but which I usually ignore. I can make grammar far more interesting than that, but I did not have the energy to do it. I told the students that we'd finish class early, when they completed the exercises. This motivated them tremendously.

While they were working on that, my boss rushed in, looking harried.

"Did it happen again? How many students are you meant to have?" he asked.

I showed him the list. He counted how many had turned up (and didn't even run out of fingers), rolled his eyes and rushed off.

Twenty minutes later he was back.

"It's a total screw-up," he said.

What had happened was that the teacher a couple of classes down from me was ill. He'd come in for the morning classes, but by lunchtime was feeling so bad he decided to cancel his afternoon classes and go home. This meant he was REALLY sick – nobody wants to cancel classes at that place, because we have to make them up later, on a Saturday. We will generally die on our feet rather than give up a precious day off, but poor David was so feverish he could barely focus. So he went over to the business department to tell them he would be canceling his afternoon classes. He told them his name, and also asked if they could inform the engineering department about his last class. We are supposed to inform each department separately, but he could hardly stand and the engineering department is way across campus. (So is the business department, only in a different direction.)

The problem was that the secretary in the business department did not catch his name, and was too polite (or stupid) to ask him to repeat it, so instead asked him which classroom he was in. David couldn't remember (they move us around so much you tend to remember where you are but not the actual class number), and he said he thought it was room 201, but wasn't sure. The secretary wrote this down, and he went home.

Then the secretary looked up who was in that room, found my name, failed to notice that it was a woman's name and the person who had just been practically expiring in front of her was a man, wrote out the notice, informed the science department, and the rest is ... pure farce. Presumably David's students turned up and then went home again when he failed to arrive.

And the reason I got only the bad students is that they had skipped every class except mine, and so had not been over at the engineering building for their 'required' classes in the early afternoon and so hadn't seen the noticeboard.

Later, the boss asked me what to do.

"David should have made sure they got his name right," he said. "And he gave them the wrong classroom number. Should I say something? Recently it seems that practically anything I say to anybody gets me criticized by all the teachers. I'm just trying to do my job! Why does everybody hate me? I'm under attack here. Help!"

We don't hate him. We get irate with him a lot because he is loud and annoying and frequently goes over the top, and because he thinks he's a wonderful teacher who can tell us what to do in our classes (he isn't – I've seen him teach), but we don't hate him. But he wants to be loved, so I was kind.

I thought about David, a lovely, gentle man who is very conscientious about his work, and who had been feeling so ill he could not face even just two more classes. Then I thought about the ridiculous hoops we have to jump through to cancel classes when we are ill. Why on earth can't we just tell the secretaries in the part-time teachers' room, so they can inform the different departments? We used to be able to, and it worked well that way because the secretaries know our names and know what to do. But now they are refusing to do it. As far as I can see the only thing they do for us these days is to stick the various bits of mail that come for us into our mailboxes. They do not do photocopying any more, either. I don't know what they do all day, except sit around drinking tea and gossiping.

I asked the boss if there would be any comeback from this incident.

"No," he said. "It's all over. I already told the people in the business department that it is their responsibility to make sure they have the teachers' name and classroom number right. They have accepted responsibility, more or less. And the engineering department is blaming them."

"Then leave it to me," I said. "Next week I'll tell David what happened, and you know what he's like. If he gets an official reprimand from you he'll feel like shit, and you will feel like a heel because he is a nice man, and everybody will think you are a total bastard for picking on him because he was sick and it's the system that's screwed up. I'll tell him, he'll apologize because he will feel responsible anyway, and he'll be very careful in future because he hates causing problems. I'm the only person who was affected, so you don't need to get involved."

"Thanks," said the boss. "Everybody hates me now anyway because of the textbook thing, and these days I never know what to do any more. I've lost confidence."

He stopped and stared at me suspiciously.

"Are you one of the ones who is angry about the textbook thing?"

"Furious," I told him. "But I'm furious at textbooks in general, not particularly at you. They're all rubbish. The only classes I have that learn anything significant are the ones where I don't use a textbook, and I know they'd never allow that here."

"And you're OK about the whole cancelled class thing?" he said. Our boss is an attention hog, and recently most of the attention he's been getting has been negative. He wanted me to say I LIKE him and do not BLAME him for everything. He wanted APPROVAL. He wanted me to tell him he is a good boss, and that I think he is doing a good job.

I could not quite go that far.

"No real harm done," I said. "I can handle it."

Actually, the thing that annoys me most about the whole cancelled class thing is that only half the students read the notice.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


On Wednesday morning I was almost happy to wake up and discover that I was suffering from a common-or-garden cold rather than an existential crisis. I had rather mixed feelings when I realized I had timed this to coincide with a public holiday on Friday. I would have liked to have a day off in which I could actually get something done, but the way I'm feeling now it seems rather unlikely. On the other hand, it is rather nice to not have to work tomorrow feeling like this.

Also cheering was that the farcical screw-ups at work both yesterday and today – at different places – were not caused by me. Especially cheering is the fact that I was able to ameliorate the situations on both days fairly efficiently and without fuss (aside from some sniffing and sneezing and moaning about how sick I was feeling), and now I am even managing to use big words. (Didn't you notice that ameliorate? Weren't you impressed? I was.)

But while I may be feeling well enough to use big words, I am not feeling well enough to describe what happened. I'll tell you about it tomorrow, or whenever I emerge from the marathon sleep session I am about to embark on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Long flight

When I am tired all the time, which I have been recently, I keep thinking of godwits.

There are pictures here, maps here, and more information here – and I totally recommend that you look at all of these. They are inspiring.

I heard about the godwit first on a Radio New Zealand podcast (don't ask me which one) back in September, when there was a small story about how birdwatchers were gathered hoping to see the first godwit land after its epic flight. I looked up godwits when I got home, because this was new to me.

The bit I remember most about the radio story is the scientist talking about how tired the birds are when they arrive. He said something like:

"You see them reach land, and they stand there with their wings drooping below their tails. They can't hold them up anymore, they're that tired."

At the time I heard this I was on the train home on a Friday night. I sympathized entirely. Sometimes a semester can feel rather like a long migration. The only difference is that I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

(And I don't lose half my body weight.)

I should add, however, that today my third period class made me feel better, at least for the ninety minutes it lasted. I wish it was my last class of the week instead of being on Tuesdays, so that I could spend the weekend feeling successful. Actually I wish it was the last class on Tuesdays, so I could spend Tuesday evenings feeling successful.

Today I walked into the class at third period thinking that having done the same lesson twice, this time wouldn't be much different (a mediocre lesson plan), but those guys made me feel like a successful and brilliant teacher. They greeted me in loud and ridiculous voices and tried out a few new expressions they'd learned during the week, most of them rude. They fell into laughing fits so often they made me feel dry and dull. They seem to think English is the funniest thing that ever happened to them, and my classes the most wonderful and silly experiences on earth, and they learn more than any other students I've ever had. These students are actually having conversations with each other, in English, and enjoying it. (If you've ever taught in Japanese universities you'll know how rare this is.) I think it's because they have learned how to insult each other. It makes all the difference. i did not teach them this. They figured it out all by themselves. Good for them!

But then my last class sent me straight back into godwit dreams. It was dreadful, and I ended up feeling tired from trying to motivate them. Flap, flap, flap.

Flap, flap, flap, flap.

Monday, November 19, 2007


This post is for:

  • People who have a huge rosemary bush that thinks it's a tree, but not many uses for rosemary in their everyday cooking life.
  • People who like the crunchy bits in fast food but wish it were healthier.
  • People who don't know much about cooking, and so are not likely to know about fried rosemary already, like me.
  • People who like mashed potatoes.

A couple of weeks ago I heard an interesting thing on the radio about a way to use of sage. Apparently you can fry sage in olive oil and it goes all crunchy, and then is really good sprinkled over mashed potatoes. This sounded lovely to me, but unfortunately I do not have sage in my garden, and cannot find it at the local supermarkets.

I was telling a colleague about this, and she said,

"Oh, yeah. It's good! And you can do the same thing with rosemary."

"Really? Rosemary?" I said, doubtfully. We have a huge rosemary bush, but I thought the flavour of rosemary would be too strong for this.

"Yes! It's good!" she said, and then we were interrupted, or classes started, or something, so I did not find out more.

But I was determined to find out.

On Saturday I cut a couple of large twigs of rosemary (branches, actually – I was cutting it in the dark and got a lot more and I expected) and took them inside, where I regarded them doubtfully. There was an awful lot of rosemary, and I was only cooking three potatoes.

I decided to use it all anyway. I took the leaves off the branches, and heated up some olive oil. I know enough about olive oil to know that you should not heat it too much – if it smokes it is burnt and will taste horrible – so I had the gas stove on the lowest setting. I washed and then dried the rosemary leaves in a paper towel, so that it would not spit at me. Then I chucked it into the olive oil.

I had a huge amount of rosemary in not all that much olive oil, but I figured that if it tasted horrible I could chuck it out, and if it was good I could probably keep it in the fridge for the next day.

I left it cooking for what felt like ages, but was probably about 5-10 minutes, stirring it once or twice with a fork to make sure it was all nicely covered with oil. The kitchen smelt very strongly of rosemary. In fact, the entire house, and possibly the entire neighborhood, smelt of rosemary. Since I love the smell of rosemary this was not a bad thing, as least as far as I was concerned, but it was very, very strong, and I had doubts about actually eating it.

When I poked it with a fork and it was crunchy the paper towels came in handy again as I fished it out with the fork and drained it on the paper. I moved it to a little dish, mashed my potatoes, made sure everything else was ready, and dished it all up. I left the rosemary to last, as I wasn't sure if it would be good or not.

It didn't look particularly tasty. I poked it again, then decided to smash it up with the fork so I could serve it in smaller amounts. Then I took a small spoonful of mashed potato, sprinkled a bit of crunched up rosemary on it, and put it in my mouth.

That was pretty surprising. It hardly tasted like rosemary at all, despite the extraordinarily fragrant kitchen. It was like having some really crunchy something on your mashed potato, but if I didn't know it was rosemary I might not have guessed. Maybe I cooked it for too long? On the other hand, it was REALLY YUMMY. I think it was the texture rather than the taste that was so appealing. There is something utterly satisfying about the way it crunches.

I ended up using it all.

I had kept the oil I'd cooked it in, thinking that rosemary flavoured oil might be quite nice dribbled over mashed potato, so that was another experimental mouthful.

The oil was REVOLTING.

I think the flavour of the rosemary all went into the olive oil. It is entirely possible that what I ended up eating – the leaves themselves – were entirely devoid of anything rosemary-related. It was just crispy leaves, so delicately flavoured I could barely taste them. The oil, on the other hand, got all the rosemary flavour totally concentrated, and was bitter and nasty. I suppose a few leaves of rosemary in olive oil would make the oil taste quite interesting, but the large couple of handfuls I used were too much, and made the oil far too strong to use.

But if you have a rosemary bush and like crunchy things on your mashed potatoes, then I can totally recommend this, because the leaves make a wonderfully delicate crunchy topping, and you can use as much as you like and not be overwhelmed with rosemary flavour at all.

And isn't that surprising? It was to me, anyway.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happily ever after

Yesterday I went into Osaka to find a new keyboard. I did not expect it to be difficult, so I also decided to look for new boots (my old ones are glued together) and get some bread from our favourite bakery.

The short version of this story is that I came home with bread.

By the end of the day I was frustrated, hot (why are shops so overheated?), and very, very tired. I had walked all over Osaka and not found a keyboard that would work on my old computer and satisfy my demanding requirements. Also, I'd forgotten to have lunch, and breakfast was a long time ago. I was walking along in a sort of daze, jostled by crowds and starting to feel a little disoriented, probably from the lack of food. This was why I did not respond very sensibly when a large face loomed out of the crowd and warbled,

"I'm so sorry about Wednesday! Thank you so much for helping me out!"

"Er. Um," I said.

"You must be very tired!" said the loopy professor.

"I am!" I agreed fervently, while my brain went spinning off in all directions. What was she doing here? Was she following me? "I should have remembered that Saturdays are a bad day for shopping," I said.

She looked puzzled, and I realized what she'd meant. She was using a direct translation from the Japanese, and wanted to say that my hard work on Wednesday must have made me tired. "Oh, Wednesday was fine," I added, hastily. "We played language games."

My brain switched into work mode and I hoped I hadn't derailed the conversation too badly.

"Oh, good, good!" said the professor. "Please tell me if there's anything you want to order for the students."

"Oh, er, yes," I said. I was lost again.

"I need to know by Friday," she said. "I can use the department budget."

"Oh, I see," I said. "I'll think about it and let you know."

"Good! Good!" she said, and vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.

I stood there feeling totally lost. I didn't know where I was or which direction I was supposed to be walking. People kept bumping into me. It had been a very confusing encounter. Surely if you happen to bump into a colleague while you are shopping you should be all surprised and greet each other and then move on, not act as if it was a totally normal thing to happen and suddenly launch into a work-related conversation?

I decided to have a coffee, to recompose myself.

While I was having coffee I thought about last Wednesday. The loopy professor had been absent, and had asked (i.e. told) me to teach both her class and mine. (We usually switch students every week.) She had told me to use this opportunity to give back the students' summer vacation homework, with comments, along with feedback.

So I'd handed back their summer vacation homework. I had obediently followed her orders and written one comment on every paper. I had written, at the end,

Good. B.

One one or two, where the students had actually done the homework the way I'd asked them to, I had written,

Excellent! A.

This was because back when the professor told me to give them summer vacation homework, and told me which units of the book to take it from, I had asked the students to write sentence answers to questions in the book. They then went ahead and complained to the professor that my homework was too difficult, so she told them they could write short answers. This meant that most of the students had written one or two word answers lifted straight from the example short answers given in the textbook, which was exactly what I had been trying to avoid. The whole point of sentence answers was that they would have to actually understand the questions and attempt to write something, and I would be able to find out where they had difficulties and use this in future classes, or for feedback. As it was, the homework was useless, both for the students and for me, since they didn't even need to understand (or even read) the questions to answer them.

So when she told me to use the combined classes lesson to give feedback on the homework, I was stuck. She had sabotaged it so thoroughly it wasn't even worth marking. But I know what side my bread is buttered on. I agreed, marked it up with the single word comment for each one (and gave them B rather than the C they deserved because they would have complained again otherwise), and in the combined class played language games using vocabulary straight from those units in the textbook. In other words, I followed the letter of her instructions but not the spirit, which is how things are generally done here.

Only one student recognized the vocabulary. She was one of the very few who had done the homework properly, and naturally, her group won all the games.

As I sat in the coffee shop sipping coffee and eating cake (lunch!), I thought about a joke one of the teachers made on Thursday evening while we were having dinner.

"Our job is like a fairy tale," he said, and we all stared at him as if he had lost his mind.

Seeing that he had our undivided attention, he added the punchline.

"Grim," he said.

Which is pretty much how I felt.

At least that's how I felt until the sugar from the cake got into my bloodstream, at which point I cheered up and went home. At home The Man got onto the Internet and ordered a new keyboard for me, easy as pie.

It will arrive sometime this week.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


The cat in yesterday's photo was not the only cat down by the river yesterday. There were three. One was a black cat, who was having a nap in the sun on the path. When I walked past he did not move, so I stopped to see if he wanted to be stroked. I held out my hand, and he stretched forward to check me out and got zapped by my finger. That made him jump.

It made me jump too. Now that the dry weather is here I've been remembering to use my anti-static thingy on doorknobs but had forgotten about my cat electrifying qualities. It's been a while since I had a cat.

It used to be that when I stroked my old cat the static charge took some time to build up. We had a routine. I would stroke him for a while, then zap an ear (usually but not always on purpose), he'd bite me, and we'd part company for a while until we got over the whole thing.

But these days it seems that I go around permanently charged, which makes it a bit harder to establish a relationship in which these little routines can develop. Yesterday's black cat did not seem interested in getting to know me past our first startling encounter.

Perhaps next time I should try the touching the ground routine, like I used to do with the coffee machine at one place I worked. That might work, if he'll forgive me enough to let me try again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Can you touch your nose with your tongue?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


At the place I work on Mondays, when the bell goes at the beginning and end of class it is very loud inside the classrooms. The other places I work have bells as well, but they sound outside or in the corridors rather than in the rooms themselves. It can be quite annoying inside the classroom. If I teach right up to the bell (usually by mistake) it can be irritating to be interrupted so loudly and rudely.


Yesterday the bell went for the beginning of classes and teachers reluctantly (and eventually) tore themselves away from their newspapers and/or the latest gossip and dragged themselves off to class. At this time of year it all feels a bit hopeless at that place, but we keep trying.

I was halfway through calling the roll when the bell went off again.


I just about jumped out of my skin, and went into a bit of a panic, staring wildly around me. It was like being woken up from a dream you thought was real.

I wasn't that late, was I? I thought. It doesn't take me ninety minutes to call the roll, does it? And then, even more panicked, Or ... did I come early? Does that mean I have ninety minutes to go FROM NOW?

For a few strange moments I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Had I taught a whole class and not noticed? Or had all of us in the teachers' room suffered a collective hallucination the first time we heard the bell?

I stared at the students as the last peel of the bell died away.

One of them laughed, interpreting my baffled expression correctly.

"Shimpai shinai!" she said. "Don't worry! It's been strange all day."

I didn't know whether to be relieved to discover we were already eight minutes into class or annoyed to discover we were only eight minutes into class.

Come to think of it, I seem to have been having trouble with time the last couple of days. When I got to the station today the station clock on my platform read 11.20. I felt horribly dislocated, because in the dream-like state I'm still in until well after breakfast I'd thought it was around 8.00.

I've missed the first two classes! I thought, horrified. How could I have lost three hours like that? I tried to remember actually looking at the clock after getting up, and failed. How could this have happened? Why didn't I enjoy my time off?

Then I looked over to the other platform. The clock over there read 8.05.

Perhaps I should start wearing a watch instead of carrying one somewhere down the bottom of my bag where I can't find it quickly, but watches always give me a rash after a few days, so I probably won't.

van Graffiti

On Sunday, as The Man and I were cycling to the supermarket, I asked a question that had popped into my head for no particular reason:

"Why did Holland have so many great artists, do you think? It's not that big a country."

The Man replied,

"It's because they had so many walls."

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Down at the little river last week, the ducks had been galvanized by the discovery of jet propulsion. They all wanted to try it.

They had varying degrees of success. Some were making progress, and had managed to achieve a sedate putter.

Others had mastered the art, and were zooming around the river at top speed.

Yet others were still having trouble with the concept.

One duck decided to go off by himself to experiment. He was convinced he could go faster than anybody if only he could practice a little on his own first.

He waited until he was sure nobody was watching.

Then he took a deep breath . . .

. . . revved a bit . . .

And he was off! He was amazing.

He got up to an extraordinary speed.

This caused some confusion when he passed other ducks too closely.

After a while he braked. . .

. . . executed an almost perfect 'tumble turn' . . .

And headed back the way he'd come.

I don't know what happened next. I missed it. In fact, he was going so fast everybody missed it. We only saw the aftermath.

I guess he wiped out.

It was horrifying.

For a while we thought the worst.

It seemed unbelievable that he could have survived. Things looked grim.

But then he recovered. He managed to right himself again.

And although he suffered a slight loss of feather, he was otherwise fine.

As I cycled off to work I overheard him extolling the benefits of the contemplative life.

"We ducks are not made for life in the fast lane!" he was shouting. "Give it up now!"

But I don't think anybody was listening.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Japan ranks 91st in terms of gender equality among the world's 128 countries, slipping 11 ranks from a year ago, according to the latest annual report released by Swiss-based think tank World Economic Forum on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Today I arrived at work twenty minutes before my first class and there was a message for me. I was to call the loopy professor with whom I share two of my classes.

I called. She told me that today the students for both our classes had to have a vocabulary test, for unit seven of the textbook. I goggled at the phone.

"All right," I said, although it wasn't. I am always agreeable with this professor. She hires me.

"It should take about fifteen to twenty minutes," she said, "At the beginning of class."

"Um," I said. "Er."

I was trying to dream up a vocabulary test for unit seven of my textbook while I was listening to her. How could she do this to me?

"I will hand out the papers," she went on. "But I'd like you to collect them from your class. Let the students have about fifteen or twenty minutes to finish."

"OH!" I said. "Yes! Of course!" Then, to make sure, "Er, do you already have the tests prepared?"

"Yes," she said.

I sagged with relief. The test was for HER textbook, not mine.

I did not stay sagged for long, however, because I then realized that my lesson plan was going to take too much time and I would have to prepare something different. Fortunately I had something suitable in my enormous bag. (This is why I have an enormous bag. I am prepared for ANYTHING.)

Unfortunately, the copy machine chose this moment to stop working.

Also unfortunately, in a bizarre effort at cost-cutting this particular school has decided the part-time teachers no longer need a secretary, so while we have a secretary's desk there is nobody sitting at it, and nobody who knows the vagaries of the copy machine, which stop working on a regular basis. One of the teachers, on her way out the door to her class, noticed me jumping up and down and making rude noises, and laughed sympathetically.

"Chotto matte, she said, and disappeared.

I chotto matted, and eventually someone from the office appeared. He consulted a manual, and fixed the machine.

It was now five minutes after my class was supposed to begin. However, the students were doing a test, right? And in any case, the professor was always late for her class, so I was pretty sure it would be all right. I made my copies.

Then I raced up the stairs to my classroom, just in time to spot the professor at the end of the corridor waiting for the lift to go down.

"I have given them the test!" she cried cheerfully. "Please let them have about fifteen minutes, and then collect the papers. I forgot something in my office. I'll be back soon."

The lift doors closed behind her.

Puzzled, I went along the corridor and peeked in the two classrooms where our students were. I had thought that she would put the classes together, but she hadn't. Nor were either of the classes supervised. I went into the wrong one, first (I do this almost every week because we change rooms each week and I always forget where I'm supposed to be) and said hello to the students. They did not seem to be doing a test. They seemed to be having a party. We greeted each other cheerfully and they told me I was in the wrong room.

I went through to my classroom. Half of my students had finished the test and were having a nap, and the other half were still looking up the answers. There were some unused test papers on my desk, and after a couple of minutes two latecomers arrived. I handed them the test papers. They sat down, asked their friends for the answers, wrote them down, and promptly fell asleep.

I looked at the test. There were six ridiculously difficult words on it, three in Japanese and three in English. The students were supposed to write the translation the other way, and of course they were doing it perfectly. That's what dictionaries and textbooks are for.

I could not imagine the purpose of this test. Nor could I imagine how it could possibly take fifteen or twenty minutes. I collected the papers. The students had all written identical, perfect answers.

After about ten minutes of thumb twiddling (me) and napping (the students) the professor came back and I gave her the test papers.

"The students seem to have done very well," I said.

"Yes!" she said, enthusiastically, leafing through the papers. "They're very good students!"

She smiled at me. I smiled back. Neither of us displayed even a tiny hint of irony. We were totally, whole-heartedly sincere and self-congratulatory. Actually, I don't think the professor does irony. It is not in her repertoire.

We went to our classes, and everything went back to what passes for normal.

I can only remember two of the words on the test. One word was diagnosis. The other was brain-damaged.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Unanswerable questions

Tomorrow I'm planning to teach my students how to respond to impossible questions. This is a follow-on from a few lessons I've been doing practicing wh- questions, and one of the homework assignments I gave them was to write ten questions. I have typed up their homework (making the necessary and endless corrections), ending up with four pages of questions, and intend to give them these to ask each other.

Some of these questions are unanswerable, however, and so I am first going to give them a little worksheet about how to respond when they get one like that. For this, I have classified unanswerable questions into five categories, based on the reason they are unanswerable:

1. You don't know the answer.
Example question: Who was the Prime Minister of Germany in 1958?

2. The question is based on wrong assumptions.
Example: How long did you live in China?

3. You need more information about the question.
Example: Did you see that movie?

4. Nobody knows the answer.
Example: Why are we here?

5. The question is too personal and you don't want to answer.
Example: How much do you weigh?

I will also give them example responses. (I don't know. What do you mean? I never lived in China! What movie? Who knows? I'd rather not say.)

I know I should not be making lesson plans the night before the lesson. I should have given myself a bit more time to think about it. I didn't, though, and now I'm sure there must be some category I've missed.

Can you think of any?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Retirement plans

Now and again The Man worries about becoming a burden to me in his old age. He is a bit older than me, and he says he doesn't want me to end up spending all my time taking care of him. He tells me to dump him in an old person's home and let someone else do it, or something similar. I tell him that would be too expensive and we couldn't afford it anyway. He says I should just abandon him, in that case.

I have no intention of abandoning him, at least not this week. I tell him we'll cope with it when the time comes.

Today, while I was reading the online International Herald Tribune, I had an idea.

"I've had an idea!" I said, and he got the look on his face he usually gets when I have ideas.

"What?" he asked.

"The retirement problem," I said. "I've figured out how to get the government to take care of you without me having to pay anything! It's brilliant! Everybody's doing it!"

I read a part of the article to him:

Work was emphatically kept light, and if any of them felt unwell, they could lie down on a tatami mat in the room. Prescription drugs, wheeled walkers and a stretcher were also kept on hand, as well as a box of "discreet, underwear-like" adult diapers.

"A little shoplifting would solve all our problems," I said. "I could move into a smaller, cheaper place, and I'd visit you once a week. It's perfect!"

He wasn't nearly as impressed as I'd expected him to be, or at least not in the right way. I guess I'll have to think of something else.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Truth in advertising

Yesterday I bought a new tube of toothpaste. There are far too many choices offered, and in the end I gave up trying to decide which was best and just went with the first one I picked up. This toothpaste said, on the front somewhere, ブーケ, which seemed a little odd as the only way I could imagine reading it was as bouquet. I wondered if it meant something different in Japanese, or whether there was some idea being promoted that if you use this toothpaste your breath will smell as fresh as a bouquet of flowers. I didn't worry about it, though. You know what advertising is like. They get a bit carried away sometimes with the extravagant language and over-the-top imagery.

This morning I tried the toothpaste for the first time, and to my horror discovered that there was nothing extravagant or over-the-top about the language at all. The toothpaste actually smells like a bouquet, and using it is like having a bunch of flowers stuffed into your mouth. I didn't even know I knew what a bouquet tasted like, but apparently I do. It is REVOLTING. Also, it makes me feel as though I am the lead attraction in some bizarre funeral rite.

I'm going back to old-fashioned mint.

Friday, November 02, 2007




Unfortunately The Man woke up before I could put my emergency plan into action, but then he was able to help me. What a man! We popped off the keys and cleaned the keyboard underneath, thoroughly. Then we popped the keys back on, and VOILA!

Now the keyboard doesn't work AT ALL. Even the keys that were working fine before.

And not only that, we managed to break the spacebar key when we were trying to put it back. Spacebar keys should not break so easily, even if you are trying to put them back the wrong way. It is now all floppy and clattery, but should still work. If anything will work.

We have performed the final, emergency procedure, which was to give the keyboard a quick shower in warm water. It is now drying out downstairs. I am typing on an old Japanese keyboard which is driving me up the wall by having quite a few important keys in the wrong place and a greatly abbreviated space bar.

If the washing procedure doesn't work, it will be time to go shopping.

How long should we give it to dry, do you think?